(Image: Robert Couse-Baker)
Maybe you want the world’s best school for your subject. Maybe you want to experience life in a different part of the world. Maybe you want to put a national border between yourself and your parents. Whatever the reason, students from around the world (including Canada) are attending American schools. Every year, more than 723,000 international students from more than 200 countries around the world pursue a higher education in the U.S. Of these, five percent come from Canada.
With the many, many universities south of the border, the choices can seem overwhelming. But, there are many reasons to consider studying in America.
Quality of education
America has some of the best universities in the world. Of the top 25 universities listed in The Times World University Rankings for 2011-12, 18 are American. In addition to the Ivy League, dozens of U.S. schools appear on the list of the world’s top 400 schools, and are widely known for their high quality education.
Studying in the U.S. can provide you with a new and different perspective that may be valued in the Canadian market. Jane Rendely, a Canadian career and educational counselor, says, “When a person comes back to Canada and they have been trained in the United States, there is a caché that comes with that … there is an edge.” But at the same time she cautions that “It depends on the school … not all American universities share such cutting edge training and hold such a high reputation.”
Access to a professional network
Many U.S. programs have established affiliations with employers, enabling you to develop contacts in the field. Professors may belong to international research teams and as their student, you may also be able to connect with experts in your field of study. Doctor Alexander Castilla, the director of Ivy Educational Systems, says: “There are several career benefits … such as participating within social and professional networks that students use for the rest of their lives. This exchange of ideas, knowledge practices, and other forms of social capital will continue to be intrinsic to understanding and facilitating human development.”
How do I do it?
So you’ve made your decision. Goodbye metric system. Farewell Tim Horton’s. So long winter. You’re studying in America
Start by doing your research. Which schools do you want to go to? What are the program requirements? And — most important — when are the due dates for applications? Check out the university’s admission statistics, their application process, and what items you’ll need to complete to gain acceptance there. Find out if there is a separate admissions process for international students.
Once you get a sense of all the forms you’ll have to fill out, all the items you’ll need to attach, and how and when you should send them in, there are a few other things you’ll definitely have to do.
Do your tests
To apply for schooling in America, you have to write the SATs. This is a part of the culture in American high school. The SAT tests reasoning, language, and math. Each of these sections is marked out of 800, culminating in a total mark out of 2400. The higher your mark, the more likely you’ll get accepted by the university of your choice. Check the admissions page of the university’s website. They’ll usually say what the average admission is for SATs scores and grades. MIT, for instance, usually admits students with scores somewhere around 2100 out of 2400.
That said, since Canadian universities only look at your high school grades, you’ll have to go out of your way to study for the test and find a centre in your province. You don’t have to go to America to take the SATs. There are a variety of websites to find test centres in Canada. Depending on how confident you are, you can also find a tutor or weekend class that teaches SAT testing.
Depending on the university you want, you may also have to take SAT subject tests. Subject tests cover everything from microbiology to Mandarin. Look at the admission requirements for your program, and find out what other SAT tests, if any, you need to write.
Prepare for the SATs as best you can and write them early in your high school career. Don’t worry about doing bad the first time: as long as you can afford the 75$ test fee, you can retake the SATs as many times as you want. Most American students write the test in the eleventh grade, and then try again for a higher mark in their final year.
Stella Lee, a grade twelve student, is applying to biology at UNC Chapel Hill and UCLA, advises doing some preparation for the tests. “I took a course through the Princeton Review. I found the private tutoring classes they offer are a lot better than the classroom ones. I would probably advise students to start studying early and concentrate on the math and reading sections. Also, for the writing section, pick a couple significant historical events or famous books that you can talk about in any essay.”
Look good on your application
No, don’t include a glamorous headshot of your smiling self in the application package. Instead, make your credentials sparkle. You can do this by getting good grades (especially in AP courses), writing an awesome entrance essay, and being involved in extracurriculars.
There are 647 high schools in Canada that offer AP, or advanced placement, courses. If your high school has them, try to take some. AP courses, are undergraduate-level courses taught in high school. AP courses conclude with an exam that determines a score from one to five. A four or five on your AP will show the admissions board of your intended universities that you mean business. Try to take AP courses in the eleventh grade. American universities look at grades just like most Canadian ones: they will know what courses you’re enrolled in by the twelfth grade, but they make most of their decisions based on your eleventh grade marks.
Many universities in America require entrance essays — especially for schools with higher reputations. These essays usually ask you to write about some aspect of yourself or an event in your life. For these essays, write honestly. Show yourself as a person. You’re not just applying for classes, you’re applying to an institution with certain values. The admissions office will use your essay to help them decide if you match those values. Also (and this goes without saying) get a proofreader to check your grammar before you send your essay off. Finally, polish off your application by joining clubs while you’re still in high school, listing any student organizations you’re part of.
Find some money
Many American graduate programs have their own internal scholarships, some of which you may qualify for. You can also look for funding sources on scholarship sites such as International Financial Aid (www.iefa.org), EducationUSA (educationusa.state.gov), and ScholarshipExperts.com. These sites house databases containing scholarships and grants for several levels and fields of study.
Going to university in the U.S. takes planning and persistence to make your way through what seems like an overwhelming process. But the possibilities for a life enriching experience and a fulfilling future may just lie south of the border. Good luck!